A judge in Cambridge has upheld Maryland's curbs on catching menhaden, rejecting claims by a pair of watermen that the restrictions were unconstitutional.

Following a day-long hearing Wednesday in Dorchester Circuit Court, Judge David Mitchell, a retired Baltimore Circuit Court jurist, ruled in favor of the state's action last year to curtail the commercial catch of the unsavory but ecologically important fish. Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler, whose office represented the Department of Natural Resources, hailed the ruling as a "victory for the health of the Chesapeake Bay." Natural Resources Secretary Joseph P. Gill said the judge had confirmed his department's authority to limit the menhaden catch in keeping with a decision by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission to ease fishing pressure coastwide.

The commission voted in December 2012 to require a 20 percent catch reduction among all East Coast states in a bid to replenish menhaden, which are a prime food for other fish, birds and marine mammals. The vast majority are caught in Virginia waters for processing into animal feed and health supplements, but menhaden also are netted in Maryland for use as bait to catch blue crabs and other fish. Watermen complained the state's catch reduction was based on flawed information and would hurt their livelihood.

Tim.wheeler@baltsun.com